Gerhard Ertl

Banquet speech

Gerhard Ertl’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in the Stockholm City Hall, 10 December 2007.

The famous physicist Werner Heisenberg begins his autobiography with the sentence: “Science is made by men.” Since in my own case you honour not a singular discovery, but the lifelong attempt to understand how chemical reactions at solid surfaces take place, this work involved in fact many people. When I was young, I was sometimes dreaming of becoming a musician. That is why I considered my co-workers often as an orchestra with me being the conductor. We know that even the best conductor cannot perform first class music with a mediocre orchestra. But I had the great luck of always being surrounded by an excellent group of co-workers whom I may compare – not with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra – but perhaps with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. But in contrast to the situation with a real orchestra where the artists play notes prescribed by the composer, in our case the players themselves are the composers. By continuously crossing the border between the known and the unknown, they build on the never ending multidimensional symphony of science. The resulting feelings had once expressed by the greatest poet of my country, J. W. Goethe, when he was already over 80 years old: “Es geht nichts über die Freude, die uns des Studium der Natur gewährt” – “There is no greater joy than studying nature.”

Goethe died one year before Alfred Nobel was born, and hence he could not know that there might be an even greater joy, namely when ones own joy from studying nature is honoured in such a magnificent manner by the Nobel Prize.

Thank you very much!

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007

To cite this section
MLA style: Gerhard Ertl – Banquet speech. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Fri. 1 Dec 2023. <>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.